FRIENDS of California Libraries
Friends of The Mill Valley Library by Joanne Hively
VALENTINE Appeal Raises $11,600.
"The board debated the wisdom of spending so much of our hard earned funds on a fund appeal. Wouldn't it be better just to contribute the money to the library? ...Finally, even if we did not break even we would have publicized the needs of the library, increased membership in the Friends, and attracted more donations and patronage to the book sales. We would be investing rather than spending the money." — Joanne Hively, Project Chair, Mill valley Public Library

The Friends of the Mill Valley Library's recent Valentine fund-raising campaign was such a success we'd like to let other Friends groups know about it in case they want to try something similar. The theme of the campaign was "Be an Angel — Give a Valentine to the Mill Valley Library." Here is what it accomplished:

  • After expenses yielded $7500 for new materials
  • Increased membership in the Friends 50% from 500 to 745
  • Increased donations of books/video/cassettes to the Friends bimonthly book sales and patronage at the sales
  • Raised awareness of the library and its needs through out the community


The original proposal to the Friends' Board of Directors was to send out a mailing asking people to return an enclosed paper ornament to the library's Christmas tree along with a check to cover the cost of a book or other library item. We soon decided to bypass an appeal at Christmas. During the holidays people are so distracted and busy that our mailing might be overlooked in the flood of mail, bulk mail delivery might be less dependable than usual, and people receive numerous requests for the year end donations from nonprofit organization. Also Christmas is a religious holiday.

We decided a Valentine Day appeal would be better timing. We could ask people to return valentines and display them. Holiday expenses would be over, income tax not yet due. No one else asks for money at that time of year. Valentine's Day is a natural — it's a celebration for lovers and people do love their library!


Rather than mailing to just members of the Friends, we decided to invite everyone in the 94941 zip code area to participate. This way we could encourage support from the wider community, particularly the 45% of library users who live in adjoining areas outside the city limits and do not support the Mill Valley Library through taxes.


With 13,000 households and 1,000 businesses in the zip code, we faced sizeable costs. And we wanted to print an extra 1,000 mailers to distribute in other ways. The original estimate for printing 15,000 items, hiring a mailing firm to assemble and mail them, and the postage came to $4,500 - $5,000. The board debated the wisdom of spending so much of our hard earned funds on a fund appeal. Wouldn't it be better just to contribute the money to the library? What if we didn't break even? Could we reduce the cost significantly by stuffing and sorting the mailing ourselves? Could we get the cost down to $4,000? What sort of response rate could we expect?


Our first decision was to eliminate the 1,000 businesses to bring printing, postage, and mailing costs down to $4,000. The second, hiring the mailing firm was worthwhile; we did not want to assemble a mailing of that size by ourselves. As to response rate, we figured that if people donated $25 each, the cost of an average book, we could reasonably expect 2%, recouping our expense. Finally, even if we did not break even we would have publicized the needs of the library, increased membership in the Friends, and attracted more donations and patronage to the book sales. We would be investing rather than spending the money. The Board voted to approve the project, authorized a budget of $4,000, and formed a committee.


The committee's first step was to establish a timetable. We wanted people to receive the mailing two weeks before Valentine's Day. Not being able to count on next day delivery with bulk mail, we set January 27 as the mailing date. Working backward, we set this timetable:

Week 5:
The mailing firm to stuff, affix labels, deliver to the Post Office.
Week 4:
The printer to print 5 items, fold the flyer, cut the valentine and bookmark.
Week 2-3:
The artist to turn the committee's conception into final art and set type
Week 1-2:
The committee to draft text for each component, discuss, finalize, then rough out design ideas for each piece
December 20:
We held the first of five committee meetings.


We asked two firms for bids and checked their references. Their prices were similar and we chose a small firm based in Mill Valley.


We learned that neither firm maintained mailing lists themselves; they buy lists from list brokers. The cost of a list depends on the format chosen and the way the addresses are sorted.

Formats: Lists can be purchased as a set of stick-on labels for one time use or on disc for multiple use. Discs can be used to print labels or to print directly on the envelope. Lists can be purchased with names as well as addresses or with a genic addressee such as "Resident," "Occupant," "To our neighbor at..."

Generic addressee:
We found that the Post Office regulates what wording can be used for genic addressees. We had wanted to use "To the Library lover at" but this fell into the forbidden category of advertising or prosyletizing. What we were allowed to use was "To our Friends at..."
Sorting Sequence:
Within a given zip code, lists can be arranged alphabetically by name or street, by all the addresses in one mail carrier's route, or broken down to exact house to house walking sequence within the carrier route.
Before purchasing a list, be sure to determine that the label system the source supplies is compatible with the mailing firm's equipment. Cheshire labels, for instance, are in common use.


From our newsletter mailings we knew we qualified for a non-profit organization bulk mailing rate. What we didn't know is that non-profit bulk mail rates range from .056 to .12 cents per piece depending on whether some of the mailing is going out of the originating zip code and how the pieces are sorted when delivered to the Post Office. The two cheapest categories of bulk mail are Carrier route" at .059 and "Walk sequence" .056. Carrier route means all addresses within each mail carrier's route are bundled together. Walk sequence means that the addresses are sorted in exact house to house walking order within each carrier's route.

After considering the options we chose the lowest method to stay within our budget: Labels addressed generically rather than by individual name, sorted in walk sequence.


The next step was to decide just what to include in the mailing. We settled on five pieces:

  1. A #10 outside envelope with return address and bulk mail permit.
  2. An 8 1/2 x 11 flyer asking people to support the library one or more of three ways
  3. A valentine reading "From the heart of" to be signed and returned by the donor.
  4. A bookmark listing dates of the book sales for 1995 with a Friends membership application on the reverse
  5. A #6 3/4 self address returned envelope

The challenge was to produce a handsome and attention getting mailer but keep the cost as low as possible to print 14,000 of the different items. We found that colored ink is a small addition to a job of this size, and that colored paper costs little more than white. But colored envelopes are another story. Still, we decided to splurge on colored envelopes because they stand out in the mail. We were advised that many people toss out without opening envelopes that are white, have bulk mail permits and are addressed with labels.

The committee decided on a color scheme of pink, red, purple and white. The outside envelope and flyer were 20# pink paper printed in red ink, the valentine 60# red (six heart squares laid out on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet pink paper) with black ink, the bookmark 60# purple (four out of 8 1/2 x 11) with black ink, and the return envelope 20# white with red ink.

The flyer: The flyer asked people to support the Library one of three ways.
  1. Donate the cost of a book, video, reference work, etc. with a list of choices ranging from $15 to $500
  2. JOIN the Friends
  3. Donate books to and patronize our bimonthly book sales Valentine: Originally we wanted to have a cut out heart that said "A Valentine from the heart of" with space for the donor to sign. Die cutting the hearts proved to be costly so we settled for the printing the outline of a heart on a rectangle. We then cut out the hearts people returned before displaying them.
We used our regular bookmark/membership application but printed it on cheap paper.
We looked through books of art in the public domain and found several suitable angelic drawings in the Dover Clip Art Series', Old Fashioned Illustrations of Books, Reading, and Writing. One committee member brought a greeting card with a drawing of an open book with stars floating heavenward, we liked the concept but we used hearts.

We took our text and artwork ideas to Dave Semling, owner of Mill Valley Services, the firm that prints our newsletter, posters, and stationery. Dave turned out to be our first "Angel." As soon as he heard ours plans he offered to print the items at cost and to donate the typesetting and services of his art department.


To publicize and promote the campaign we decided to decorate the library, seek newspaper publicity, to solicit selected businesses, and to staff a table out front several days. We distributed some of the extra 1,000 mailers to city employees who live outside the zip code area and left others for people to take at the circulation desk.

Decorations included an eight foot banner on the outside face of the building that read " Valentines for the Library." At the front door, we put up a colorful valentine flag to which we added stick on letters reading "Donate a Valentine to the Library." Inside the front door is a locked display case. Here we put up posters echoing the mailed flyer and surrounded it with a collection of antique valentines and related objects. One committee member borrowed two large angel paintings from an artist friend for the library walls.

Displaying the Valentines: The walls in our library are mostly redwood but there is one high white wall behind the fireplace. To display the returned hearts, we strung fishing line horizontally 10 feet high and stapled 25-30 purple ribbons to hang down on each side of the fireplace. Hundreds of returned red valentines — one for each donation or membership — hanging from purple streamers made an impressive colorful display.

Our weekly Mill Valley newspaper ran an article three consecutive weeks. A photo showed two of us stapling hearts to the wall of streamers.
Table out front:
On Valentines Day and the Sunday preceding, a heavy usage day, we set up a colorful table out front under the flag. Volunteers greeted patrons, asked if they had received our letter in the mail, gave them one if they said no, and offered them valentine candy. This proved a good way to reach some library users who live outside the zip code area.
Soliciting businesses:
Several committee members walked around town to solicit donations from businesses. This yielded only a few gifts so we were glad we had not incurred the cost to mail to all of them.


The campaign struck a generous chord in the community. Valentines started winging in two days after the mailing went out and grew to 30-40 a day. They continued all through February and March until we had recorded and mailed thank yous to 420 donors, a return rate exceeding 3%. 176 people donated $4,873 for library materials and 244 joined the Friends for $6,776. The total sum donated was $11,648.

We were surprised and delighted to gain so many new members. Previous efforts to increase membership had never accomplished much and membership remained around 500 year after year. Now we have over 750. Another pleasant discovery was that 40% of the donations came from library users who live in surrounding areas outside the city limits.

Donations to the book sale did increase. We had asked for more videos and cassettes — good sellers — and are delighted to find more coming in.

Awareness of the library increased throughout the community and we received much positive feedback from the City Council, Library Board of Trustees, and notes accompanying donations.

Printing    $1,953
Mailing firm1,200
Banner, Flag, & Etc.129


This does not include the cost of postage for the thank yous. We saved them up and did all at once for the bulk mail savings.

— Joanne Hively

Reprinted from The FOLIO, Spring/Summer 1995, ISSN 1080-3963, FRIENDS & FOUNDATIONS of California Libraries, © Copyright 1995, all rights reserved. Redistribution of this document is hereby freely granted so long as the document is redistributed in its entirety (here interpreted as all text exclusive of HTML tags); in particular, with attributions and this copyright notice.

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